Nature Notes

A Divine Path and a Pear Tree.

I have deadlines to meet but, coming home from a visit to a neighbour, the light on the
018cac0413f032ecfc51cc91977bd5cdba63850a02 hill falls in such a way that the path to the top is engraved like a divine inspiration. I cannot argue with it.

I had gone in search of a tree my elderly neighbour Mary had poignantly described: leaving church one Sunday after the choir had sung on through a thunderstorm, a wild pear tree saved from the hedgecutter by an observant villager years ago, had been illuminated by a vivid green fire. The simple, breathtaking beauty of that moment never left Mary. It struck me that the down and its path beyond, lit by the morning sun after such a day of relentless rain, was a similar moment I should not ignore.

I walk. All the way up, little vortices of swallows, house and sand martins whirled inexorably south. I am in the midst of (and witnessing) an incredible, ancient and at the same time, commonplace migration. Their flight in, only months ago, seemed arrow-like in purpose but this going-back is more akin to watching water drain away. A wheatear perched confidingly on a fencepost as I reached the top and tinkling charms of goldfinches bounced between thistles as if they were invisibly roped together, teasing out the seeds that weighted drifting parachutes of down.

A week earlier, I had a call from a friend on the hill to come now – there was something exciting and unexpected. But I was waiting for the shopping to come and spent the next 40 minutes pacing. When it arrived, I jammed the ice cream in the freezer and abandoned the rest over the work surface and floor and left.

A quick clamber over the hinge side of the gate and a breathless, low-profile jog across tussocky grass brought me to my friend and almost immediately, a short-eared owl lifted up from the grass in front of us; I got a glimpse of a cat-face and long, woody wings before it is gone again. Cutting out a track in the scrub, my friend disturbed not one, but three-short-eared owls; an adult and possibly two juveniles. We are astonished, not usually seeing these winter visitors on our southern chalk hills until later. We dare to wonder whether the pair we watched well into April stayed to nest? This high ridge of downs and its collision of remote geography is full of surprises, anomalies and possibilities.

On the day the path lit up like an open invitation, close to where the owls were, I found Mary’s pear tree and realised I knew it (or thought I did, it has the loveliest white blossom in spring) but I’d taken it for a wilding apple. In a revelation of close looking, I saw that the little, round rosy fruits were actually pears.

There is wonder and life affirming joy in stopping (when you’re given the chance) to experience something in nature that makes you smile, or takes your breath away – however ordinary or extraordinary – something outside and indifferent to us but of us all the same.


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